Last Resorts Thesis

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Submitted to the Department of Architecture, February 2011
in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

By 2100, rising sea levels will consume the Maldives in its entirety. Without land, the country cannot survive. This crisis has already begun: tsunamis, storm surges, and land scarcity already threaten the nation. In 2008, Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed proposed using income from the country’s tourism industry to purchase land in Indian, Sri Lanka, and Australia. Notwithstanding the political difficulties of inserting one sovereign nation into another, the primary Maldivian economies of tourism and fishing are inextricably linked to its immediate ecosystem. Campaigns to curb global carbon emissions are ineffective; eco-grandstanding impedes development and discourages tourist arrivals. Although the highest point on any of the country’s 1,190 island is merely 2 meters, declarations that the country will disappear in the next 50 years are directly in conflict with the nation’s 50-year (minimum) island lease agreements for international resort operators. Last Resorts proposes that instead of paying in cash, operators pay the government with DEFENSE, both hard infrastructure such as sea walls and jetties, and soft infrastructure such as beach building breakwaters and artificial reefs. Existing inhabited islands can be typified by a developed core and an unoccupied perimeter that acts as a buffer zone against wave action and flooding. These productive cores house schools, workshops, hospitals, and housing. Existing resort islands are better described as a “lucrative edge” because guest rooms, dining, and other amenities are pushed to the exterior to take advantage of views to the reef and the horizon. The interior of resort islands are used for staff housing, water and electrical infrastructures, and other support features. These edge and core conditions are amenable to synthesis: resorts islands and local islands can combine to produce new hybrid types. By wrapping themselves around existing inhabited and agricultural islands, Last Resorts can defend the Maldivesand create new typologies hospitality: farms become agritourism, towns become cultural tourism, fishing villages become an angler’s paradise, and artificial reefs will produce the best diving in the Indian Ocean. Last Resorts will expand the nation’s economy, ensure Maldivian sovereignty, and protect the archipelago’s ecology. To this end, the resort typology must be redesigned to enable the activation of Hilton, Marriott, and Club Med as agents of national defense. Discarded plastics from resorts are upcycled into durable composites for sea wall construction and resilient architectures, which can be deployed to reduce erosion and flooding while permitting the accelerated growth of bioelectric reefs. Seawalls and buildings will deployed incrementally, beginning by securing critical water treatment, energy, and communications services. As resorts expand their operational capacity, the original shoreline will be obscured and a new island perimeter will emerge in the guise of an exotic defensive infrastructure.

Ana Miljački (Adviser), Assistant Professor of Architecture
Mark Goulthorpe, Associate Professor of Architecture
Nasser Rabbat. Professor of History, Theory and Criticism

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